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"Hudson Bay Beads"
Alex Janvier, "Hudson Bay Beads," 2005, media on paper (watercolour, gouache and ink), 30" x 23".
ALEX JANVIER, Beautiful Mother Earth
Bearclaw Gallery, Edmonton
Sept 22 - Oct 6, 2005
By Dina O'Meara
Abstract artist Alex Janvier sees the universe when studying the undergrowth of Cold Lake’s boreal forests. The 70-year-old Dene Suline, known internationally for his melding of modern abstract styles with Native symbolism, draws on the interaction of sunlight on moss and lichen for inspiration in his latest exhibit Beautiful Mother Earth.
“By looking at our earth — the complicated designs in the different varieties of moss and lichens — it’s like you’re looking at the sky.” he says. “This land is just a small replica of what is out there.”
Janvier calls his new perspective “painting at ground level,” tapping into the rich reds, yellows and greens of vegetation hiding under the tamarack trees to create watercolour and gouache masterpieces. The forest is a place that is sacred to Janvier’s heart, but one that was closed to him for decades.
Janvier was 17 when the Canadian Armed Forces took over a huge parcel of land that his people, the Dene Suline of Cold Lake, had considered home for countless generations. The tract of forest, ripe with plant and animal species, was turned into an air weapons range, and remained closed until 1993 when the tribe was successful in regaining access.
The closure was a mixed blessing, says Janvier. Although his people were barred from the land, so was the rest of the world. Today the region remains in pristine condition, an anomaly among the frantic pace of development in the northeastern corner of Alberta.
“I used to hate them for taking that land away from us, but now I bless them for it,” Janvier says. “For me to see it the way it was is a miracle. So, I try to paint it.”
Janvier burst on to the Canadian art scene in the late 1960s with his unique blend of abstract art, influenced by Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee, and traditional Native themes found in beadwork and birch bark basketry. His bright, flowing paintings challenged Western culture’s concept of Aboriginal art, and as one of the Indian Group of Seven along with Daphne Odjig, Jackson Beardy, Carl Ray, Joseph Sanchez, Eddy Cobiness and Norval Morisseau, he helped transform the nature of Canadian art overall.
Janvier has been working on his upcoming exhibit for the past year, waking before dawn to take full advantage of a fresh world, and spirit. He says the 30-odd pieces are probably some of the most controlled paintings of his career. Janvier was stricken by Bell’s Palsy almost a decade ago and has slowly regained his ability to paint “those beautiful lines.” While recuperating, he was drawn back to the natural feel of watercolours, and he continues to explore the medium on circular hand-printed paper.
Beautiful Mother Earth is Janvier’s ode to a vanishing land. “I’m concerned about Mother Earth and I want to help prevent her wholesale destruction,” he says. “There is a careless use of land, and nobody seems to speak out against it. This may be the last time we cry with nature.”
Represented by Janvier Gallery in Cold Lake, Bearclaw Gallery in Edmonton, Canada House in Banff and Gallery Moos in Toronto.